Was there a moment when you knew programming was the right career for you?

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Was there a particular instance that influenced you to choose software engineering as your career? Was there one moment in time or did it happen over time?

My impactful moment happened at Cape Canaveral, FL after the Apollo 11 space launch. My dad took me to see the spent launchpad. He had been part of team responsible for the successful launch having designed the gantry supports. It was clear he was in awe of what had been accomplished there. I told him I wanted to be an engineer, too. He told me I could do anything I wanted and he was sure I would make him proud.

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I would say that it was when I got my first taste of coding around the mid 1980s on a MicroBee then Amstrad. My career went down another (IT) path but I'm getting back now with a little coding for work. Considering how to get more involved in coding again.

 

You must be from the UK :) Its good to connect with another dev who remembers the '80s! lol btw I did the same: started in tech and stopped to raise a family. It was a challenge to find the resources to update my skills but not impossible. It's easier today. Good luck!

 

I didn't really know it until after I had written several programs for various employers. The whole time I was thinking it was too brain-frying and I wanted to do sysadmin (aka ops) instead. I got a job doing linux sysadmin, then moved into HPC (aka supercomputer) admin. About 6 months later, the program manager told me he wanted me to move to a programming project as I was the only one available with the background. I was reluctant, but as I reflected back on what I did in HPC, I realized that I mostly wrote scripts to automate maintenance of the cluster of servers. And the more senior HPC admin was happy to let me do it. So I thought even when I'm doing admin, I choose mostly to automate things by writing code. I decided maybe it was a career path for me after all, and endeavored to figure out how to make it less overwhelming to me. So glad I did.

 

Great story! Thank you for sharing that. Curious to know what steps you took to make it less overwhelming?

 

Up until that point, I mostly wrote programs as a jumble of code. They functioned, but to effectively work on it I had to load the whole program into my head. As the program grew larger, it eventually became impossible for my limited faculties to understand exactly what effects any single change would have. And it became frustrating to work on.

So I began to research how to make programs more maintainable, which led me to software architecture patterns. I started with the basics like 3-layer architecture. That was a big help, but eventually I found the rough edges. Throughout my career I've kept researching and striving for the goal of code that I don't dread maintaining.

After almost 2 decades, I feel like I am finally on the right trail. 🤣 But it turns out, on their own, the best tools in the world (if they existed) aren't enough to make good software. The more important part that I missed for many years is actually learning the customer's problem from their perspective. I can't tell you how many times I did exactly what the customer asked, but they were still disappointed with the outcome. Because I was too focused on using the tools instead of getting to the root of their problem.

 

I kind of slid into it, really - I'd always been an enthusiastic programmer back in the days of 8-bit home computers, so after I finished my degree in French & Communication Arts & completely failed to get a job using any of the skills I'd learned during that course (speaking, reading & writing French, knowing about French history, literature & philosophy, but also how to cost a TV programme, how to write for kids or the stage, knowing about media history & politics, and linguistics, & semiotics) I got a job as a temp at what was then Transco (I think they're part of National Grid now?) & ended up taking care of the ISO9001 quality library, and designing databases & looking after the timesheeting system that Sema Group wrote for them. I figured I could make a lot more money than £10/hour doing this so went through all the companies that had tendered to be in the virtual joint venture that Sema did with Transco, applying for any kind of graduate position. Essentially, I was at home with computers & kinda inspired by some of the IT consultants I ended up working with, and wanted to be a part of that, properly. Capgemini ended up hiring me & giving me a job down in London looking after banking systems like ARTIS and CUTAS, old legacy stuff that involved DEC Alphas & AS/400s. It's been a long & weird journey via dead-end jobs in desktop support & application support, but as I approach 50 I'm a proper Java developer at last. Pretty happy with where I've ended up, although I'm always learning new stuff & would love to get more JS under my belt.

 

Small world; I work for Cap, too! (Senior Frontend dev NYC). Great story - interesting background.
~jr

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